Fire in the newsroom

September 1, 2008 By    

I’m not sure what concerns me more about propane accident stories in the news – the apathy of the public or the apathy of some propane marketers.

Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

Many propane marketers feel like whistling through the graveyard when an incident hits national news. They bring it up at a manager’s meeting and maybe touch on the subject at a company safety meeting. But unless it involves their company, why worry?

Often, legal concerns about accident cause and origin discourage open discussion about prevention. It appears that would be a bad public relations move that might lead to future scrutiny and investigation of all practices.

What does your company do when a propane incident hits the news? Do you investigate and inquire about cause and origin? Do you examine similar exposures within your company and customers? Do you educate and inform your customers, the public and your vendors about issues of current concern?

Have you considered subscribing to a service that notifies you via e-mail various incident reports when they happen? Why not? Trust me, it is better to know than not.

NPGA subscribes to such a service. In consideration of dues and services, it should publish such information on its Web site for you to download or send it to you upon request. After all, marketer members have a stake in facilitating accident prevention.

I have been interviewed about propane safety twice in the past year and a half. I am happy to discuss the safe nature of the product, which still must be handled properly by qualified service techs or delivery drivers. This is a great industry and I am proud to promote propane safety.

Are you proud to promote propane safety? Are you proactive in your approach to accident prevention, accident investigation and accident cause and origin?

One reason most propane marketers and association executives are nervous about speaking to the media is that it doesn’t understand the product and usually gets the information wrong. In that light, no publicity is better than bad publicity.

For example, we all know tanks don’t just explode. You must have a leak with the right gas-to-air mixture and a source of ignition. That is a point worth making with the press.

I have seen stories that draw conclusions as to the fault of a marketer before the cause and origin investigation even takes place. One such company lost 20 percent of its business due to innuendo and competitors fanning the flame of allegation. The 18-month investigation is ongoing and we still don’t know the cause.

Unless we educate the media on propane safety, it will continue to get it wrong. News stories portray victims as victims, even when they are victims of their own doing.

Factors that often lead to accidents – such as unqualified work on a system – should be the first source of inquiry rather than the last. That is why we must make sure the media gets it right.

What can you do to aid the cause?

  • Pick a safety topic for consumers and write five to seven key points to be made on the subject. It may be in response to an accident, or it may be an educational piece designed to inform and educate.
  • Keep your summary to one minute or less and the whole presentation to 10-15 minutes. Remember, key sound bites will chosen by the media.
  • Practice your presentation in front of a mirror first, then an objective co-worker or spouse.
  • Provide sample material that supports your topic and share it with the media during your presentation.
  • Plan a location for filming if your topic involves how to safely use a propane product. Be ready to suggest ideas to the media, such as a backyard grill or a bottle-fill location.
  • Remember your goal is to remind consumers to use propane safely and to reassure them that when used properly propane is a safe, clean and energy efficient fuel of choice.

Jay Johnston ( is an insurance agent, business insurance coach and consultant, safety writer and inspirational speaker. Jay can be reached at or 952-935-5350.

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